Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Strangers to Ourselves

One of the most important aspects of growing up is learning to take charge of and responsibility for one’s own life. The complete dependence with which we begin life as infants must slowly and surely be replaced by independence. While no one ever gains complete independence - by our very nature we are not complete within ourselves - a healthy independence is essential to maturity.


Sometimes people are threatened by the healthy growing independence of people they may wish to keep dependent, and thus under their control. It is not unusual to see a subtle (and sometimes not too subtle) battle develop along these lines between parent and child or husband and wife. But taking control of one’s own life is a natural process. Some of the most profound parenting mistakes I have seen have to do with parents not knowing when to keep control of a child and when to turn loose. There is no set formula you may follow. Only parents who are sensitively and lovingly involved in the maturation of their children will know when.

I have seen many marriages ‘go south’ and end up in divorce because of the strange and unrealistic behavior of a controlling mate. The quest for power in a marriage is a very bad sign. It is almost axiomatic that the person with the most power loves least. Any time someone exercises control over another person by manipulation, fear, or any other means, they should not be surprised when the oppressed person someday makes a declaration of independence and leaves.


In his book, "The Mask Behind the Mask", Peter Evans, biographer of Peter Sellers, says that Sellers played so many roles that he sometimes was not sure of his own identity. Approached by a fan who asked him, "Are you Peter Sellers?", Evans said Sellers answered briskly, "Not today", and walked on.


There are some people who act as if they were visitors or strangers in their own lives. Instead of attempting to map out the direction of their lives, they seem to be along just for the ride.


Take charge of your life, for you are really not able to give your life to anyone or anything until you first possess it. Teach your children (slowly) how to achieve meaningful independence. It will be a gift of great value to them as long as they live. It will mean far more than any material bequest you may leave them in your will. We will not be with our children forever. We begin to influence them before we realize it, and we finish before we want to. While we all hope to be missed when we are gone, we do not wish our final absence to leave those we love paralyzed.


We will always be dependent to some degree and in some matters, but we achieve our highest potential as we learn to take charge of our own lives. And it goes without saying that we are responsible for all of that of which we take charge.